Friday, December 27, 2019

From Ian:

The ICC, settlements and the Orwellian denial of the Jewish presence in Israel
SINCE THE question in this narrative is to determine who the first occupant was, this implies that historical Jewish presence must be denied and that, as a corollary, Palestinians need to prove that they were the first occupants. The consequence of this narrative is that anything Jewish is erased from the history of the country.

For example, recently, Palestinian academics denied archaeological evidence of Jews in Israel, part of a narrative to portray Jews as recent invaders. More generally, this creates an impossible historical conundrum, since the presence of an Arab population emerged as a notable community in the territory of Israel after the Muslim conquests of the seventh Century and that, thereafter, this population always cohabited with the Jewish and Christian communities that remained after the conquests.

More specifically, the aspect of this broad narrative relating to the inherent illegality of Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria implies a certain view of the history of the past century. One could even say that this narrative requires a sort of Orwellian rewriting of the past, to erase key moments that fit uneasily with such a narrative.

Indeed, it requires a rewriting of the recognition of a Jewish right to self-determination that followed the Balfour Declaration of 1917. It ignores the conditions under which Judea and Samaria, as well as Gaza, were occupied respectively by Jordan and Egypt from 1947 to 1967. It ignores the circumstances of the 1967 Six Day War when Israel took control of this territory in a defensive war. It ignores the negotiated terms of the Oslo Agreements in relation to the distribution of authority in Judea and Samaria and the lack of final status of both borders and territories.

The wide-sweeping argument of illegality per se also ignores the diverse nature of each individual presence in these territories, in terms of where it is, how it came into existence, what legal regime applies to it, etc.

As in a courtroom, the issue comes down to the identification of competing narratives before the international community acting as a judge. Each side is therefore faced with the choice of which narrative to choose from. Some narratives can be reconciled. Others cannot.

The fact remains that the position that settlements are illegal as such serves a war-like narrative that denies any legitimacy to Jewish presence on the entire territory of Israel, as exemplified by numerous declarations, including a recent declaration by a Fatah official that Palestinian people will not relinquish a grain of soil from the land of historical Palestine from the [Mediterranean] Sea to the [Jordan] River.

The December 20 announcement by the ICC prosecutor that she is ready to open a formal investigation with settlement-related activities at its core will undoubtedly be seen as a first narrative victory for those challenging Jewish presence in Israel. This can only be countered if another narrative is presented, not just in public discourse, but at the ICC itself, which provides genuine procedural opportunities for participation in the judicial debate, as we noted in an editorial last September.
Col. Richard Kemp The ICC decision on Israel would make Himmler proud
The ICC prosecutor accuses Israel, during the 2014 Gaza war, of using disproportionate force, willfully killing and injuring civilians, and intentionally attacking protected individuals and locations. She also alleges that the IDF committed war crimes against Gazans violently attempting to breach the border into Israel in 2018 and 2019.

I was present during these conflicts, witnessed, and was extensively briefed on IDF operations. I was a member of an investigation into the 2014 Gaza war by the High Level Military Group, an independent body of retired generals from Western armed forces and human rights experts. The group unanimously concluded that: "The IDF not only met its obligations under the Law of Armed Conflict, but often exceeded these on the battlefield."

Gen. Martin Dempsey, at the time Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, commented: "Israel went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties." My first-hand observations during the Hamas-instigated Gaza border violence in 2018-19 echo these assessments.

The allegation that Israel committed war crimes by transferring parts of its civilian population into occupied territory can only be described as outrageous. The West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza are not "occupied territories." The suggestion that willing tenancy on this land by Jews is intrinsically illegal sees the ICC prosecutor adopting the Nazi concept of Judenrein, cleansing an area of Jews.

Despite situations where such crimes have actually occurred, including Northern Cyprus and Crimea, no prosecutions for war crimes in this category have ever been brought against anyone. Special treatment is reserved for the Jewish state.

Nitsana Darshan-Leitner: Israel's Defensive Arguments Fell on Deaf Ears at the ICC
Since September 2012, when the Palestinians' status was upgraded in the UN to an observer state, they have repeatedly warned that if Israel does not submit to their demands, they will turn to the International Criminal Court in The Hague and formally submit war crimes complaints.

Israel tried to persuade ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda that the tribunal has no authority to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, since Israel is not a signatory to the Court's Rome Treaty and the Palestinians are not a state. Israel correctly argued that it has a strong and independent judiciary investigating every incident, and does not hesitate to prosecute and frequently convict whenever there is even the shadow of a violation of law. As such, the ICC has no authority to act as a super-review court for the Israeli justice system.

Every IDF tank and helicopter has an on-call legal advisor who is relied upon to instruct the units whether to shoot a shell or fire a missile when there is even the slightest question concerning collateral damage to civilians. But all of these defensive arguments seem to have fallen on deaf ears. The writer, an Israeli civil rights attorney, is president of the Shurat HaDin Law Center.

They say every Jewish settler is a 'war criminal'
Executive Director of UN Watch Hillel Neuer talks to Israel Hayom about the challenges facing Israel in the international arena, where facts and common sense are ignored in favor of pro-Palestinian politics.

It's doubtful there is anyone who can better describe the hypocrisy of international institutions when it comes to Israel better than Hillel Neuer. The 49-year-old Jewish legal scholar, born in Canada, has been on the frontline against the UN for more than a decade as executive director of the non-profit watchdog group UN Watch in Geneva. He established a coalition of civil organizations that working to promote human rights in the darkest dictatorships in the world, whose governments hold key positions in the UN.

A week ago, the hypocrisy of the international system reached a new height with the announcement that Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Fatou Bensouda had decided there were sufficient grounds to open an investigation against Israel for alleged "war crimes."

Neuer says that there is no alternative but for Israel to take on the ICC head-on. He thinks that ICC judges cannot adopt a position that contradicts that of the UN, which has recognized the "state of Palestine," and will therefore decide on an official investigation against Israel that centers on the accusation of war crimes and is expected to address Israeli settlements over the Green Line – which is why Israel declined to join the ICC in the first place.

"Over a course of a few years, the prosecutor was conducting a preliminary investigation, in which the court started to probe accusations that Israel was committing war crimes," Neuer said. "Now the main question is whether the judges will decide that the ICC has the authority to launch a full-scale investigation. Israel's position is that the Palestinian Authority is not a state, and therefore cannot be a plaintiff in the court or give it judicial prerogative. According to Israel, the PA does not meet the criteria of international law to be considered a state and therefore has no control over territory. So there is a basic debate here about the kind of judicial authority the court has," he says.
IDF Soldier Views International Criminal Court Probe of 2014 Gaza War
Omri Ohayon, one of the Israeli soldiers who was fighting in Gaza during 2014 war, an event that the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court wants to investigate, said, "You cannot compare the only democracy in the Middle East with a terror organization like Hamas."

Ohayon served in the Israel Defense Forces' Yahalom unit, responsible for spotting and eliminating tunnels used by Hamas to infiltrate Israeli territory to kidnap and murder Israelis.

In 2014 Ohayon's team found 11 such tunnels. Our goal "was to find and destroy tunnels as well as to protect Israel from militants' infiltrations, not to harass Palestinians or kill civilians. This is not what we were ordered to do by our commanders, and this is not what we did on the ground," he explained.

"If the ICC claims to be objective, equal and unbiased, why don't they investigate regimes where human rights are breached, and civilians are massacred, including in Syria, Iran, North Korea or even the Palestinian Authority that knows little about such rights as freedom of speech?"

"I can testify that in many cases shelling of civilian buildings was called off simply because we found out that there were civilians inside. At times we were too cautious, and it would cost us our soldiers' lives," he said, recalling an incident when a Hamas militant attacked his squad while hiding behind civilians.

Ohayon says his conscience is clear. "I know my commanders, and I know my soldiers. War crimes were not committed. Even more so, we did everything in our power to save human lives and avoid unnecessary casualties."
Ha'aretz: The Difference between a Tragedy and a War Crime Is Intent
Who cares what the politicized International Criminal Court thinks about us? So Israeli officers won't be able to wander the streets of Europe. Somehow, we'll manage.

Have we behaved perfectly in this conflict that has been forced upon us? There have indeed been some tragedies. But the difference between a tragedy and a war crime is intent. Israel has no desire to hurt civilians and no interest in doing so. Moreover, Israel often refrains from attacking Palestinians who are genuine war criminals to avoid killing uninvolved civilians.

Nowadays, the blood libel is that the Zionists are responsible for war crimes. But Israelis are strong enough to walk with their heads held high and without fear - to stand up to the anti-Semites dressed up as seekers of justice.
ICC Prosecution of Israel Just Another Way for Palestinians to Avoid Peace
The announcement by Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, that she is prepared to begin an investigation into Israeli "war crimes" is just the latest evidence that the Palestinian Authority, which originated the complaint, would rather seek to wage legal war against Israel than to negotiate with it.

No matter how prejudiced the ICC and its chief prosecutor may be, the supposed moderates running the Palestinian Authority made this farce possible; it represents their desperation to avoid negotiations with Israel under any circumstances.

The PA has rejected Israeli peace offers that would have given it statehood over nearly all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem. It refused because doing so would require it to give up the hope of eliminating the State of Israel altogether. The PA wants to delegitimize Israel in the international courts because it is incapable of living in peace with a Jewish state, no matter where its borders are drawn.
Congress Passes Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act Supporting Links with Cyprus, Greece and Israel
The U.S. Congress approved the bipartisan Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act on Dec. 19. Cyprus Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides said it sends out "significant diplomatic and political messages" about how the U.S. perceives a growing energy partnership between Cyprus, Greece and Israel. Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who co-authored the bill, called the legislation "a comprehensive re-calibration of American diplomatic, military, and economic policy towards the Eastern Mediterranean and a strong and prosperous alliance between the United States, Greece, Israel, and Cyprus."

"Our vision for the region is to see all states together, without excluding anyone, even Turkey," said Christodoulides. Turkey doesn't recognize EU-member Cyprus as a state and says that part of the waters where the divided island nation has exclusive economic rights fall within its own continental shelf. Only Turkey recognizes the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in the island's northern third and keeps 35,000 troops there.

Ankara also strongly objects to the Cypriot government's gas search and has dispatched warship-escorted vessels to carry out exploratory drilling off Cyprus, including in areas where energy companies such as Italy's Eni and France's Total are licensed to drill. The EU has condemned Turkey's actions and has prepared sanctions against it.
In Its Search for Stable Allies, Israel Should Look Elsewhere Than the Persian Gulf
Much has been made of Jerusalem’s improving relations with the Persian Gulf states, but valuable as these diplomatic efforts may be, the countries involved have remained hesitant about the normalization of relations, are plagued by anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel, and have little to offer economically. Moreover, the stability of their regimes is questionable. Dmitri Shufutinsky argues that a more fruitful course can be found in expanding economic, diplomatic, and military ties with southeastern Europe, beginning with Greece and Cyprus. And fossil fuels provide a way to do so:

Israel can develop and connect its Leviathan gas fields to Cyprus’s Aphrodite fields. A gas pipeline could run through Cyprus to Greece and through the Balkans, up to Romania, and westward to Italy. If Egypt can overcome its differences with Israel and cooperate, it could attach its Zohr gas fields to the regional pipeline as well. Doing so would lift the Egyptian, Greek, and Cypriot economies out of poverty and massively benefit the Israeli economy.

In addition to natural gas, it is also possible for Israel to develop its oil supplies in the Negev, the Golan Heights, and near Jerusalem, and connect them to an additional pipeline.

Important military, economic, and diplomatic opportunities could result [as well]. . . . Southeastern Europe has blocked harmful anti-Israel EU resolutions and is more inclined to support Jerusalem than to support Ramallah. Making Europe more dependent on Israeli energy exports would deepen this relationship while prying Brussels loose from its dependency on Iranian and Arab oil. That alone would weaken the EU’s automatic pro-Palestinian stance.
Georgia to open cultural center in Jerusalem
Georgia is set to become the eighth country to open a cultural center in Jerusalem, its Israel embassy confirmed Thursday.
“We welcome the center’s opening,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Office said.

The Georgian Embassy’s spokesperson said they do not yet know when or where it will happen, and that the particulars are still being discussed.
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely praised the decision, saying that “more and more countries are joining the historic process that began with the US, and are recognizing the historic connection between the Jewish people and Jerusalem.” She added that, “as a daughter of immigrants who came to Israel from Georgia, I am proud of this move and hope it will be completed with the [Georgian] embassy moving to Jerusalem.”

There are an estimated 250,000 Jews of Georgian descent – the vast majority of whom live in Israel. In 2018, Hotovely asked Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili to move his country’s embassy to Jerusalem, “in light of the deep and longstanding friendship” between the countries. The two agreed to begin a dialogue on the subject. Zourabichvili plans to visit Israel next month for the World Holocaust Forum, along with many other world leaders.
After Likud win, Netanyahu vows to ‘finalize borders,’ get US to back annexation
In a victory speech on Friday morning, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed his “final and sweeping” win in the Likud primary on Thursday, thanking US President Donald Trump and vowing to bring US recognition of Israeli sovereignty in West Bank settlements — a move tantamount to annexation.

Addressing supporters a day after he easily defeated main challenger Gideon Sa’ar with over 70 percent of the vote for party leader, Netanyahu said the win was a “huge expression of confidence in my path, our path.”

“Most people support the right, and most people support me for prime minister,” said Netanyahu as Israel heads to a third round of elections in less than a year on March 2, 2020 after the Likud leader failed to form a government coalition in the two previous votes in April and September.

In the speech, the prime minister touted his close relationship with Trump, thanking the US leader for his “historic decisions” in recent years to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, transfer the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, withdraw from the Iranian nuclear agreement, recognize Israel’s sovereignty in the Golan Heights, and shift US policy to no longer view the establishment of Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal.

Netanyahu further promised to drive “more historic achievements” in the coming years in the event of a victory in national elections and laid out a six-point plan that would include US recognition of sovereignty in the Jordan Valley as well as in West Bank settlements.
"We just need closure," plead friends of missing IDF soldier Oron Shaul
St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul should be celebrating his 26th birthday, but instead his remains have been held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip since Operation Protective Edge in 2014.

“We don’t know what happened to him,” his childhood friends Tal Gido and Moti Nachman told The Jerusalem Post.

Sitting with a picture of Shaul between them, it’s clear that even five years after one of their best friends was killed during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in 2014, for Gido and Nachman the wounds are still fresh.

“We don’t know how to talk about him: in the past, present or future,” Nachman said. “Even if you have a little bit of hope, it’s that hope that keeps your head above water. But we don’t know, we don’t even have signs.”
Khaled Abu Toameh: Why Palestinian Leaders Fear Opinion Polls
The Palestinian Authority leadership was far from pleased about AMAN's exposure of the Palestinians public's discontent with corruption.

Palestinian leaders fear that reports about corruption could contribute to a drying up of international funding of the PA. If donor countries got whiff of the fact that their taxpayers' money is being squandered and stolen by senior PA officials, the cash cow might just kick over the PA bucket.

The statement by Transparency International is a clear indication of the campaign of threats and intimidation its representatives have been facing since the release of the corruption survey. The statement implies that AMAN was forced to withdraw its public opinion poll after its staff received threats from the PA leadership.

Mahmoud Abbas also apparently wants to make sure that donor countries continue to channel funds to his government without noticing that a majority of Palestinians are complaining about corruption.
EU, including Germany’s Merkel, pressures Palestinians to hold elections
The European Union is pressuring the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership to hold legislative and presidential elections, as the body appears to be moving toward a more strong-armed approach to Palestinian affairs after recently becoming the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) largest financial backer.

The EU became the PA’s top donor after the administration of US President Donald Trump, previously the authority’s highest supporter, ended hundreds of millions of dollars in security, economic and other assistance in 2018 and early 2019.

“Europe is sending a very clear message to the Palestinian Authority and [PA] President [Mahmoud] Abbas that elections need to take place,” a European source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Times of Israel.

“There are some in Europe asking: ‘Why are we paying all this money while our goals are not being achieved?’” the source said, noting Europe’s chief aims include promoting the two-state solution and advancing the development of democratic Palestinian institutions.

The PA has not held parliamentary or presidential elections since 2006 and 2005, respectively.
Khaled Mashaal set to make Hamas leadership comeback, backed by Qatar
Former Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal looks set to make a return to the leadership role, KAN News has reported.
Mashaal took charge of Hamas in 1996 and stayed in the leadership role for over twenty years, relinquishing the role in 2017, whereupon he scaled down his public appearances.

However, with official elections for Hamas leadership set to take place in the latter half of 2020, Mashaal has recently begun to resurface in the public eye. According to KAN, it is believed that the appearances are in preparation for Mashaal announcing a leadership bid.

Hamas is currently led by Ismail Haniyeh, aided by the group's military leader Yahya Sinwar, who took over when Mashaal stepped down. But as both Haniyeh and Sinwar are based in Gaza, the handover is said by Israeli defense forces to have made Hamas more cautious as they had more to lose should a full-scale war erupt.

Mashaal, on the other hand, is based in Qatar, which is backing his bid along with Turkey, which routinely offers Hamas leaders safe haven. Both countries are looking to increase their influence on the terrorist group.
Turkish President Erdoğan: 'As Soon As Our Parliament Opens' On January 7, 'We Will Present A Bill On Sending Soldiers' To Libya
On December 26, 2019, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in a speech in Ankara at the AKP Extended Meeting Of Provincial Heads: " Now they [unclear who is addressed] are screaming and shouting: Do whatever you want, we gave our signatures and finished the job... They say: 'Are you going to send soldiers [to Libya]?'... We will go where we are invited. But we will not go where we are not invited. Since now there is such an invitation, we will answer it favorably... Inshallah, as soon as parliament opens, we will present a bill on sending soldiers. With the approval of our parliament, we will be able to support the legitimate government of Libya in a much more effective way... We will pass it on the 8th or the 9th [of January]."[1] Turkish parliament is in recess and is scheduled to open on January 7, 2020.[2] Reuters reported on December 26 that a Tripoli official had said that the Tripoli-based Libyan government had formally requested "air, ground and sea" military support from Turkey.[2]

Turkey's AKP government has over the past year shipped drones, armored vehicles, "laser weapons," and other arms and ammunition to Libya's Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) and has also trained GNA military and police personnel (see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 8395 Violating UN Arms Embargo, Turkey's AKP Government Ships Armed Drones, Armored Vehicles, 'Laser Weapons,' Other Arms And Ammunition To Pro-Islamist Government In Libya, Trains Libyan Military And Police Personnel, December 6, 2019).

"We Decided To Cooperate With Tunisia, With Which We Are Of One Mind, To Give Political Support To The Legitimate Government"

Mentioning his December 25 visit to Tunisia, Erdoğan said: "We visited President Kais Saied at this level for the first time. We had meetings face-to-face and with committees. We talked, along with the other relations between our country and Tunisia, about the Libya issue from top to bottom. On the matter of the stability of Libya, we decided to cooperate with Tunisia, with which we are of one mind, to give political support to the legitimate government in the country [i.e., the Tripoli-based government led by Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj]."
Turkey’s Halkbank Fails to Halt US Prosecution for Aiding Iran
A federal judge in Manhattan on Thursday rejected a request by Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank to put on hold a federal prosecution accusing it of helping Iran evade US economic sanctions.

US District Judge Richard Berman said Halkbank would not face irreparable harm if the case proceeded, and that limiting its economic and reputational damage “may best be assured by Halkbank’s speedy response to the criminal charges.”

Berman also said the public had a strong interest in a “prompt adjudication” of Halkbank’s alleged role in a conspiracy to undermine the sanctions, including through the alleged transfer of $20 billion of otherwise restricted Iranian funds.

Lawyers for Halkbank did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for US Attorney Geoffrey Berman in Manhattan declined to comment.

Halkbank has resisted entering a plea to the federal fraud and money laundering charges announced on Oct. 15.

The bank had asked Berman to stay the case until the federal appeals court in Manhattan decided whether it could make a “special appearance” to challenge the jurisdiction of US courts without first entering a plea.
Fierce Competition for Supremacy in Northeast Syria
Eight separate armed forces may be discerned in northeast Syria.

There is the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the U.S. Army, the Turkish Army, the Turkish-associated Sunni Islamists of the Syrian National Army (SNA), the Syrian government army (SAA), the Russians, the IRGC-supported Shia militias, and the Sunni jihadis of Islamic State.

South of SDF and U.S. forces, the Iranians have carved out an area of de facto control in the area just west of the Euphrates.

At the Albu Kamal border crossing, the Imam Ali base with its tunnel system for storing missiles and heavy weaponry, and in the villages around Mayadin, the Syrian government is nowhere to be found.

The IRGC and its militia allies, including Lebanese Hizbullah, are the de facto ruling force there.

This area has been a particular focus for air activity attributed to Israel, including an air raid on Wednesday.

The good news for Israel is that it is not currently faced with a potent, focused and united enemy camp in Syria or in the region generally.

Iran is a powerful enemy, Turkey a determined adversary, but both are beset by other problems requiring their urgent attention.
Caroline B. Glick: Fighting Iran's undivided and indivisible regime
This week, we saw the true face of the Iranian regime at home and abroad.

In regards to Iran, for forty years, Western policymakers have been lying to themselves about the nature of the Iranian regime and basing their Iran policies on the lies they tell themselves. The main lie has been that there is an ongoing, existential struggle for power and control within the ranks of the regime's leadership.

On the one hand, the fantasy goes, you have the "hardliners." They are the ones behind all the terrorism. They are the ones working to develop nuclear weapons and the warheads to deliver them. They are the ones who call out "Death to America, Death to Israel."

Facing them are the "moderates." If the moderates seize the reins, the Iranians will eschew terror. They will walk away from their nuclear program. And the aspiration for an Islamic global empire will become no more than a children's fairytale.

The conceptual framework for American and Western policy relating to Iran since the 1979 revolution has been that all you need to do to end the conflict with Iran and bring it back into the family of nations is to find the right mix of concessions to enable the moderates win their power struggle against the hardliners.
JPost Editorial: Iran in Iraq
In Iraq, the Iranian regime has been active in supporting Shi’ite militias that are part of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU). These groups came into being after 2003 and gained power after 2014 via their fight against ISIS. They have infiltrated the government through political parties and getting Iraq to legitimize their militias by incorporating them into the security forces.

These groups have been instrumental in murdering Iraqi protesters since October, killing hundreds and wounding thousands. This is Iran’s model: Takeover the state from within, suppress protest, and use Iraq as a kind of Iranian colony.

Iraq is helpful for Iran because it can base its ballistic missiles there the way Saddam Hussein once did with Scud missiles in Anbar province. Baghdad can also keep munitions there, ready to move them into Syria via the newly opened Albukamal crossing and via a large base called Imam Ali, which it built at that crossing. For Israel, this is an increasing threat. Iran has already shown that it will retaliate via rocket fire from Syria over actions taken by Israel. It did this in September and November.

The Iranian model is to present a credible threat to Israel from Syria and also from Iraq. How to confront this threat is a major challenge. Iraq has accused Israel of several airstrikes, but the larger picture is Iran’s entrenchment. Iran has threatened US forces and attacked ships in the Gulf of Oman, downed a US drone and attacked Saudi Arabia. Tehran does not seem to think it has been deterred, and feels that it can operate with impunity in Iraq. Stockpiling munitions and moving them to Syria is one aspect of that.

Iran is not secretive about its goals: It says that it wants to attack and destroy Israel. This is an existential threat that the international community must take seriously. Israel is taking it seriously – but the ability to deter Iran from its role in Iraq will be a long-term challenge.
Moderate Quake Strikes Near Iran’s Bushehr Nuclear Plant, No Damage
An earthquake of magnitude of 4.9 struck near Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant on Friday but an Iranian emergency services official said there was no damage or casualties.

The US Geological Survey earlier said the quake had a magnitude of 5.1.

“Based on our assessment, fortunately there have been no casualties or damage. There are reports of cracks in some walls of homes, but no flattened houses,” Jahangir Dehqani, the head of the provincial emergency department, was quoted as saying by state television.

A quake of 4.9 magnitude can cause moderate damage.

It was centered 53 kilometers (33 miles) east of Bushehr, the site of a nuclear plant on Iran’s southern coast on the Gulf and was relatively shallow — only 10 kilometers deep according to Iranian media — which would have amplified the shaking.

In 2013 when a 6.3 magnitude quake that struck south of the plant killed at least 37 people, an official said the plant had been designed to withstand earthquakes of magnitudes above 8.0.
Japan to Send Warship, Aircraft to Middle East to Protect Shipping
Japan will send a helicopter-equipped destroyer and two P-3C patrol planes to protect Japanese ships in the Middle East, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, Japan's top government spokesman, said on Friday.

"It is very important to make sure Japan-related ships can sail safely in the Middle East, the world's major source of energy," he said.

In May and June, there were several attacks on international merchant vessels in the region, including the Japanese-owned tanker Kokuka Courageous, which the U.S. blamed on Iran.

If there are any emergencies, a special order would be issued by the Japanese defense minister to allow the forces to use weapons to protect ships in danger.

Japan, which has maintained friendly ties with Iran, opted to launch its own operation rather than join a U.S.-led mission to protect shipping in the region.

A European operation to ensure safe shipping in the Gulf will also get underway next month, when a French warship starts patrolling there.
French, Australian academics jailed in Iran launch hunger strikes
A French-Iranian researcher locked up in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison has gone on a hunger strike along with an academic and co-prisoner from Australia, a rights group said.

The hunger strikes by Iranian-born French researcher Fariba Adelkhah and Kylie Moore-Gilbert were revealed by the Center for Human Rights in Iran. They were confirmed by Sciences Po’s research center CERI, where Adelkhah works.

French researchers expressed their concern in tweets and press commentaries.

An open letter was sent to the US-based Center for Human Rights in Iran signed with the names of the two women after it was received “by a source with contacts inside the prison,” the center said in a Christmas Eve statement.

The center quoted the letter as saying that the women were starting “their joint hunger strike in the name of academic freedom” on behalf of researchers like themselves “unjustly imprisoned on trumped up charges.” The letter said they had been subjected to psychological torture and human rights violations. It said they are being held in Ward 2-A, allegedly run by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Melanie Phillips: Against the odds, heroic Iranians continue their resistance
America’s sanctions are badly crippling Iran. Because of the hardships these are causing, the appeasement crowd claimed they would turn the Iranian people against America. Wrong again.

“On December 15th, Ali Rabiei, a spokesman for regime president Hassan Rouhani, admitted in an interview given to a regime newspaper that Brian Hook, the US State Department official responsible for Iranian affairs, was correct when he said that the Iranian people did not oppose US sanctions against the Khomeinist regime. ‘The people did not chant slogans against the sanctions. Instead they chanted slogans against our political system,’ Rabiei was quoted as saying.”

According to Brian Hook: “There was one video I saw of an Iranian woman climbing a pole that had a ‘death to America’ banner on it, and she pulled it down. Instead of seeing images of the American president burned, you saw videos of the supreme leader’s images being burned.”

Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a British-Australian academic who has been held in Iran’s Evin prison for 15 moths of a ten year sentence believed to be handed down on charges of spying, has now gone on a hunger strike after losing an appeal.

As the Telegraph reports, she is being held in the jail next to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian charity worker who was charged with espionage while on holiday in Tehran visiting family with her daughter Gabriella and has served more than three years of a five-year sentence.

According to Ms Zahari-Radcliffe’s family, she visited Ms Moore-Gilbert after she had been in hunger strike for two days. “Before the guards pulled them apart, Nazanin was able to tell Kylie that the world is watching her story and it will be ok.”

But that’s the point. If these prisoner-hostages are to survive this, if the regime is to be made to realise it is not in its interests to take and jail such western hostages, and if there is any chance of bringing that regime down, it is absolutely crucial that the west shows in every possible way that it is supporting the protesters and the hostages – and that it gives teeth to such support by taking condign action against the regime.

Yet apart from the US sanctions, the west has not been doing so. Appallingly, Britain and Europe have instead actually tried to give the regime support and encouragement.

Britain’s newly empowered prime minister, Boris Johnson, is suggesting he is ushering in a new kind of politics that breaks with the patterns of the past. High time, then, for Britain to break with its shameful policy of appeasing Iran’s Islamic revolutionary regime and to stand instead with the heroic Iranian people.

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